Unfortunately, the Florida National Scenic Trail corridor is not protected by a hunting ban, and you often see hunting stands in trees along the Trail. The thru-hiking season of January–March overlaps certain popular hunting seasons and so it is wise to wear an orange hat at all times. (see below)
Hunting is not permitted in county parks, state parks, or state recreation areas. However, hunters and backpackers coexist on public lands like wildlife management areas, water management district lands, state preserves, state forests, and national forests.
Understanding Hunting Seasons
Roughly speaking, Florida is divided into four hunting zones. Upon closer inspection it is more complicated, with additional smaller zones created for specific animals and separate rules for state game preserves (euphemistically called wildlife management areas).
However, to understand hunting's impact on the Florida Trail, we can focus on the four primary zones because they determine dates for the most popular hunts: deer and turkey.
Aug 1st - Oct 18th & Nov 21st - Jan 3rd
Oct 17th - Feb 21st
|Zone C||Sept 19th - Jan 24th|
Oct 24th - Feb 21st
It is easy to see why a northbound thru-hike should begin the first week of January, rather than in the fall. Not only does a January start date avoid lingering heat and winter holiday complications, but by January 3rd most hunting ends in South Florida's zone a. Assuming thru-hikers complete the trail in three months, they reach the panhandle in March after hunting has ended in zone d. While thru-hikers reach zone c before hunting ends, it doesn't last much longer, ending on January 24th. The most troublesome spot is zone b, where hunting continues almost to the end of February.
The dates above are only for deer and turkey. Raccoon, opossum, coyote, beaver, skunk, nutria, wild hog, and rabbit can be hunted year-round anywhere in the state. Bobcat can be hunted statewide
from December 1st to March 31st, and river otters December 1st to March 1st.
Impact on Trail Maintenance
Trail maintenance must be done in the fall, before the bulk of hikers hit the Trail in January. Regional clubs usually schedule week-long volunteer work parties in November and December, which is smack in the middle of deer and turkey hunting season. According to volunteers we spoke with, active hunting along the Trail discourages people from volunteering for work parties.
Since hunting is allowed on some public lands but not others in ways that can be confusing, you can enter and exit hunting areas throughout the day or week and never know it. Consequently, we strongly encourage thru-hikers to play it safe, assume hunters are in the woods wherever they are hiking, and wear blaze orange every day.
You can find 100% polyester blaze-orange baseball hats for about $5 at hardware stores or WalMart. A better choice for sun protection would be the RedHead Outback hat from Bass Pro Shops.
For extra safety, you could get Granite Gear's ultra-light Cloud Cover packfly in bright orange, which is the only pack cover we have found available in orange.